| What If You Don't Want to Fly?
|If you're having second thoughts about air travel in the aftermath
of the tragic events in New York and Washington, rest assured.
No one is going to force you to fly. And a refund may be available.
Even though your airline ticket may come with every restriction
known to you—and perhaps some of you aren't even aware of—your
carrier is likely to be more than accommodating if you'd prefer
not to fly.
The key is to understand the difference between an airline's
rules and its unwritten policies. Your airline's rules
may state that you aren't entitled to any changes or refunds
when you travel on a restricted ticket (say, a 14-day advance-purchase
fare). It may not entitle you to any additional compensation
in events that are beyond its control, such as what it terms
Actually, this is something of a gray area as far as the rules
go that even airline experts have a difficult time understanding.
If an airline fails to operate a flight as promised, its contract
of carriage generally mandates that it will transport you on
another of the carrier's flights on which space is available
at no additional charge or refund the unused portion
of the passenger's fare. However, airline rules also stipulate
that the carrier isn't liable "for any failure or delay in operating
any flight due to causes beyond carrier's control," which include
"acts of God, governmental actions, fire, weather and mechanical
But by sticking to the rules—or their interpretation of the
rules—the airlines are exacerbating a public-relations disaster.
They're highly unlikely to throw the book in your face if you
don't want to travel.
Here's where the carrier's unwritten policy is more likely
to come into effect. Its policy generally gives ticket and gate
agents extraordinary authority to offer either a voucher for
future travel or an outright refund. In fact, in the aftermath
of an extraordinary series of events like the vaporization of
both World Trade Towers and the Pentagon air attack, you should
expect your airline to throw the book out altogether.
Here's an example of rules versus policy. Several years ago
I was booked on an American Airlines flight from Miami to Albuquerque
via Dallas/Fort Worth. Hurricane Opal, one of the most powerful
storms of the season, was bearing in on Miami. I went to the
airport, but before the flight departed, I had second thoughts
about leaving my loved ones behind. I told the ticket agent
that I wanted to stay in Florida and brave the storm.
The agent said she completely understood. Without hesitating,
she issued a refund to my credit card.
Will you find your airline to be as cooperative? I can't guarantee
it, but there's a very good chance that it will waive some—if
not all—of its rules. Before you call your airline, however,
here are a few things to remember:
What if your carrier doesn't want to issue a refund or a voucher?
In the unlikely event that a phone agent refuses to rebook you
on a future flight or issue a refund, don't despair. Take your
case to a ticket agent in person and explain that you're not
comfortable traveling by air. If the ticket agent is unreceptive,
then ask to speak with a manager.
- Flying is still relatively safe, statistically speaking.
A recent University of Michigan study found that air travel
is 33 times safer than driving. It's unclear how that number
will change in light of the latest string of hijackings.
- Aerophobia is nothing to be ashamed of. According to a
Boeing survey, one-third of all travelers suffer
from the fear of flying, and 25 million Americans refuse
to fly. If you'd prefer to stay put until the dust settles,
- Be patient. If you're flying this week, assume that there
will be further disruption in the air travel network. Expect
long delays and more cancellations. If you're trying to
reach your airline by phone or online, don't count on it.
If the agent offers a voucher rather than a refund, and if it
appears that's your airline's best offer, then take it. Remember
that by buying restricted, advance-purchase tickets, you've
given up your rights to a change or refund—so in the end, you're
better off taking whatever the airline is giving.
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